Tag: Nyoongar


For the Sufis the experience of the sacred can happen anywhere, at any time. Given the conjunction of spacetime in contemporary physics, this statement in Alireza Nurbakhsh’s discourse may be reassuring. The sacred is available, but it is also (and not just etymologically) “set apart”—not intrinsically, but because people usually do not perceive it, or do not know that they are in it. What all the authors in this issue of Sufi find is that it takes at least one of the five physical senses of the human body, in combination with a consciousness devoted to service to others, to detect and create sacred space.

Kim Lisson’s interview with Nyoongar Aboriginal Elders reveals the need to feel with the whole body and a whole history of stories and connections. Then perception shows the routes that lead to a person’s experience of a specific sacredness in specific places. The locations where this issue’s articles happen: Istanbul, England, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, New York, Oregon, the place of poetry, and the mother of them all, the space of the heart—are already sacred space. As Mark Nepo says, though, frequently we need another person or community to remind us of all this. When the going gets tough, the tough ask for help. Friends, teachers, ancestors, saints living and dead, will answer the call. Then we can remember to stop, look, listen, touch, smell, and taste Nature, the sacred space we already inhabit. How can that happen? According to 2014 United Nations figures, more than half (54%) of the people on Earth are stuck in cities. But our authors remind us that under the cities is pure planet, and anyone who has been to town knows that tiny leaves push up through cracks in the man-made. Like it or not, with then senses alive as we can feel them, it’s time to hit the road, or we won’t find the sacred space we can’t get away from anyway: “I set out on the journey to see my beloved; the wind carrying her scent reached me first and I passed out.” We took our first breath of sacred space before we knew it.

—The Editors of SUFI




Kim Lisson in Conversation with Nyoongar Elders  Richard Walley and Carol Pettersen


What makes a place sacred? And how is the sacred defined? For Aboriginal Australians, sacred spaces are both tangible and intangible—some visible, some intuited; sometimes physical, often metaphysical. Sacredness is intimately bound up with the natural world and people’s relationship to it—in this life and beyond. Sacred sites are places of respect, stewardship, kinship, communion, ritual, healing, and they are far from homogenous. Them Aboriginal population of Australia is made up of many tribes and nations, each with their own sacred places, animal totems and other landmarks in geographic areas known as their “country.” Sacred places are as much a matter of identity and belonging as they are about transcendence.

To understand more about Nyoongar spirituality, and their notion of “sacred space,” writer, consultant and coach Kim Lisson spoke to two Nyoongar Elders: artist Richard Walley and social advocate Carol Pettersen.

Kim Lisson: So, when it comes to sacred space, would you be reasonably confident there are some significant similarities between different Aboriginal communities, or would you say it’s more characterized by its differences?

Richard Walley: Well, on this subject there’s a lot of similarities. Similarities because nature itself is a part of the system, it’s not based purely on the unknown and supernatural. It’s a combination of spirituality and the physical form, both in the forms of people, but more importantly place and plant.

Kim Lisson: And that forms a common connection point for the Nyoongar people, the environment of the south-west of Western Australia as common “country”?

Richard Walley: Exactly. We didn’t have borderlines that divided us, we had borderlines that actually joined us, and we shared common responsibilities. I think that was a fantastic system that operated by sharing responsibilities, caring for country, caring for animals and plants that are in your zone, but also out of your zone, becomes it’s something that links us together as a people.

Carol Pettersen is a Justice of the Peace, cultural advisor and Elder belonging to the Minung-Gnudju people of the Nyoongar Nation in the southwest of Western Australia. She has lived and worked in Albany for most of her life and is well-known throughout the Nyoongar nation as a tireless worker for her people. As a Justice of the Peace, Carol is still actively working in the courts as an advocate for social justice for Nyoongar people, which she has done for over 40 years. She is also very active in helping to bring about social and economic changes for Nyoongar people through land claims and access to mining income. She was a principal adviser to the Premier of Western Australia on women´s issues, a counselor with the Council of Albany, and has served on state and Commonwealth committees on issues such as Indigenous health, welfare, education and training. She retired from the public service in 1998 but continues to work as a volunteer for the Nyoongar community.

Kim Lisson: Carol, what’s your cultural background?

Carol Pettersen: I identify myself as a Minang-Gnudju woman of the Nyoongar nation. We have this dual dialect culture as well as a dual culture background, meaning that although my mother was a tribal woman my father was a white man, and so we’ve grown up with those. two cultures. And there was a big family… Mum and Dad had eighteen children. We know our totem, which is a little bird from our neck of the woods, which is the coastal strip—we were coastal people. An anthropologist described our family as the ‘shell people of the South Coast’. We come from a matriarchal line, we identify with that, and our little totem is a little bird, and it’s the spirit of our grandmother. Women were given little birds (and trees and flowers) as a spiritual totem and the men, the patriarchal line, were given big birds.